ELLSWORTH — Coach John Macauley said he was pleased with both the performance and the sportsmanship of the Mount Desert Island High School sailing team at the high school national championship regatta for keelboat racing sailed in St. Petersburg, Fla., on the weekend of Dec. 7.
“I’m always impressed by these guys,” Macauley said of sailors Alec Fisichella, Lucas and Nate Ingebritson and Jake Peabody. They finished eighth of 10 teams in 10 races over three days.
The fleet “all stayed pretty tight,” Macauley said. Most races had only “a 30-second spread from first to last.”
“There were a lot of times we were all finishing right together,” Fisichella said.
The team from Corona Del Mar, Calif., won the regatta. The team from the Ranney School of Tinton Falls, N.J., was the runner-up. Teams came from the Texas Gulf Coast, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Minnesota and Washington state. MDI and Portland High School represented Maine.
The regatta was organized by the Interscholastic Sailing Association and hosted by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. The students raced J70s with four-person crews. The sportboats are 22.75 feet long and have a beam of 7.38 feet. Fisichella sailed as skipper and handled the mainsail while the Ingebritsons and Peabody trimmed the jib and “A sail,” or asymmetrical spinnaker.
The team arrived on Thursday, Dec. 6, and had a few hours of practice on Friday before the first races to get a feel for the boat. Conditions the following day were sunny but winds were light, less than 10 knots.
“Then we had a storm blow through and continue on through Sunday morning,” Macauley said. That day’s races were held in 15-20 knots of wind.
The Trojans earned two third-place finishes. Rather than strategic victories, Fisichella said, “it was more that we just didn’t make as many mistakes” in those races.
“We could definitely feel throughout the regatta that we were improving,” he said. “Our spinnaker work, the speed at which it went up and down,” got better. “We kept our boat speed up through jibes and tacks. We were able to make fewer tacks and make meaningful tacks that would put us ahead.”
Handling the A-sail took some getting used to, Macauley and Fisichella agreed. Most of the boats in the summer racing fleet on Mount Desert Island have standard symmetrical spinnakers, in which either edge of the sail can be the luff or leading edge. They’re usually flown with a spinnaker pole.
An asymmetrical spinnaker is faster, Macauley explained, but takes more work. The same edge of the sail is always the luff, and it’s longer than the leech (the trailing edge).
That configuration requires a crew to jibe back and forth on the downwind leg of a race, Macauley said. “You can’t just go straight downwind. And every time to jibe you have to pull the clew around the forestay.”
Fisichella said the A-sail was easier to manage on the days with stronger wind.
“When there’s more wind to fill it, you don’t get as many twists, you’re able to get it out away from the boat,” he said. In light air, on the other hand, “you have to sail closer to the wind to fill it more. You really just have to be smoother with all your movements.”
The MDI sailors and coach had a good time off the water, too, and even had time to visit a rock climbing gym where they used a different kind of rigging system to belay each other as they climbed.
“We had a lot of fun,” Fisichella said.
Each of the student racers has been sailing for several years on the high school club team organized by the MDI Community Sailing Center in the fall and on the official high school team in the spring.
They also all participate in fleet racing in the summer. The racing organizations on MDI have worked to support youth sailing and involve younger sailors in fleet activities as part of the cooperative Great Harbor Dream program.